A horrifying own goal in the same competition put an end to John Arne Riise’s seven years on Merseyside after his flying start at Anfield had Reds supporters chanting his name. He also may have made the most significant cross in Liverpool history
There are few more comforting indicators for any new football player looking for acceptance than hearing their name shouted by an adoring new fanbase.
The Kop would usually run through and sing the team a song from 1 to 11 before kickoff everytime Liverpool stepped onto the field at Anfield, although nowadays repertoires are frequently more arbitrary.
While Darwin Nunez, an admittedly high-paid center forward, can have his name shouted out loud and proud before ever really kicking a ball in earnest, characters like Joel Matip can spend more than half a decade at the club, become a beloved cult figure while winning nearly every major winners medal in the game, and hardly receive a flicker of recognition.
Certain players and the circumstances around them sometimes just naturally lend themselves to song. And 21 years ago this week that was very much the case for an Anfield new boy whose exploits in the opening weeks of a seven-season spell with the club inspired Liverpudlians to compose not just one but TWO ditties in honour of him which rapidly became regular fixtures in the Reds songbook for years.
It would be easy to think that John Arne Riise’s career in top-level football came naturally from watching him galloping up and down the left wing, but in reality, it was fashioned in the blood, sweat, and tears of a challenging upbringing. The Norwegian author of the brutally honest autobiography “Running Man” would discuss how the mental scars he sustained as a child affected his career and relationships, and how he never developed a close relationship with his biological father, who abandoned his mother before John was even enrolled in school and passed away as his son hurried to his bedside for a heart-to-heart conversation with the man he hadn’t seen in years.
The boy with ginger hair, freckles, and skin as white as a sheet experienced a lonely and bullied childhood and was frequently teased and shunned in equal measure at school. However, motivated by his mother’s training regimen and his own unwavering will, he threw himself into football, where his natural athleticism and desire to disprove others became the fuel that drove him.
“I’m not sure what it was about me that they disliked. Nobody was bothered by me. I was a shy kid,” he said. “Being bullied and isolated made me desperate to fit in, and I had to be brilliant at something to do that. I worked out 21 times a week when I was 12 years old. both before and after classes. Running or aiming at the garden goal I built. I would attempt to score from various angles. Nobody wants to run in the snow like that, so if I was running at five in the morning, I knew no one else was either. I had such a strong desire to succeed.
“I knew I wouldn’t be home until late that night, so I packed 35 slices of bread to take to school when I left the house in the morning. Our house was situated on a hill. I was sprinting up and down while my mother watched the time on her stopwatch at the top. She wanted to push me and at the same time help me realize that I had to do this in order to be good since she could see that I had something. My biological father was a bad husband. I started calling my stepfather “Dad” when I was very young. He rescued my family.
After just one season with his hometown club, Aalesund, Riise’s talent and hard work allowed French club Monaco to sign him in 1998 when he was just 18 years old. However, after being a regular player on their Ligue 1 championship-winning team in 1999–2000, Riise fell out of favor with coach Claude Puel after admitting his desire to move on. A move to Craven Cottage initially appeared to be in the works after Premier League clubs Fulham and Leeds United each offered £4 million, but because Riise was represented by his mother, Berit, a deal never materialized. The London club’s supporters never let him forget this, frequently chanting “Mummy’s boy” to him in the years that followed.
By the summer of 2001, however, Monaco had accepted a £4 million bid from Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, who was looking to bolster the left side of his team after deciding to shorten Christian Ziege’s stay at Anfield. As a result, the young Norwegian was headed to Merseyside, but only after forgoing the help of his mother.
“The fact that John Arne’s mother serves as his agent, she claimed, has felt like a burden to him. He dislikes the moniker of “cry baby. He naturally wants to put his profession and family apart. Nothing is more dramatic than your children expressing a desire to leave the house as they are older.”
Riise later said, “I prefer her in the capacity as mum solely, not as agent-mum. “I was about to sign the Fulham contract when the phone rang, and it was from Liverpool. Nobody can really blame me for choosing Liverpool, in my opinion. This is a great club, and I think it would be the ideal club for me to play for, so I really want to play for them. Gerard Houllier is a capable manager, and every member of the staff I’ve encountered has been friendly. I can’t wait to visit this country because Liverpool is the biggest club in Europe according to Norwegians. They have several excellent young athletes like Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen, as well as have demonstrated their ability to develop young athletes into prominent stars. I want to play football well and become a huge celebrity.